PDP- Constellation reflection

Over the course of my first year of Artist: designer maker I was part of two seminar groups for my constellation module. We would meet for three hour lectures each week to discuss different topics and the readings that were made available to us through moodle. These sessions aimed to expand the creative thinking and context around our own work whilst learning about the greater world around us.

My first seminar group was smells like teen spirit with Cath Davies. We started our first week by investigating and scrutinising the goth style. By doing this we were learning about how visual and material culture can explore meaning. She taught us not to ignore even the smallest of details in an outfit or style, as even the tiniest or seemingly insignificant details has a story of its origin or meaning behind it. Before this I often disregarded certain details, as to me they were insignificant; however I have learnt that some of the smallest motifs hold powerful meaning behind them. A great example of this was the safety pin from the punk movement, it symbolised their anti-establishment values. As something designed to hold things together the safety pin became an accessory worn in places it was not needed and often as jewellery in the place of piercings- creating holes in the skin. Subverting its function in this way reinvented the objects meaning and value. The safety pin is an iconic feature of the punk style but could have simply been brushed aside as a small, insignificant accessory without a keen understanding of subcultures and their influences. I didn’t realise this at the time but Cath has taught me that this scrutiny of small details is essential in all art and design. She also taught me that all styles and movements have always taken inspiration from the past. The reinvention of these styles is often the leading factor in the influences of the ideologies of these styles. So to truly understand anything one must first figure out where it has come from. This has been such an important lesson for me to learn as it has altered the way I perceive the world around me, not only when investigating others work but in my own. Through learning about these other subcultures, I have gained a keener insight into my own style and work.

Another aspect of these seminars I found most helpful was Cath’s essay planning techniques. At the beginning of the term we were asked to reflect on what we think we need most improvement in, whether that was learning how to read and understand academic sources or simply our writing style. Because of my dyslexia I started out by being extremely apprehensive about constellation and said I needed to improve on all of those aspects. Cath gave us a simple and effective essay plan technique called ‘columns’. It allowed me space out my argument, theory and evidence in a format I found easy to understand and visualise. Before, I found the hardest part of any essay was starting but through this method I found that in my notes the essay had written its self and become structured. I have seen a vast improvement in my essay writing skills, even between my formative and summative essays.

My second seminar group was things can be otherwise with Clive Cazeaux. The first thing we were faced with in the study group was to reflect upon ourselves. We were asked whether we were ‘a bucket or a fire?’. At first I was confused by the request and couldn’t see it’s relevance to me. After explanation, I realised that it was regarding our education and the knowledge we will gain from our time at university. Based on the William Butler Yeats’ quote “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”.  We learnt that we shouldn’t visualise ourselves as things to be filled with as much knowledge as possible, as one day we would be confined by our own parameters, reach our limit and be forced to spill out our excess. But instead be a fire that is ignited by wisdom. This concept was really potent for me, as I was apprehensive about my abilities (especially within the academic portion of our course) and the overwhelming anxiety of failure. I really enjoyed the metaphor as I believe it was very apt, and I found comfort in this thought- ALL fires are different. Some just seem to burst into flames and rage forth from the smallest spark, like the bushfires of Australia. Other fires, while ultimately successful, have to be gently nurtured from remnants of glowing coals or from retrieving the inner dry wood in what seems to be a soggy log. Lighting the fire of a student is no different, and each student requires a different approach.

The first week was an introduction to the four topics that we would be covering; Knowledge, technology, writing and the self. Over the course of the eight week program we covered many points relating to the four main topics and a few of them stuck out to me more than others. One session that really changed my perspective and way of thinking included the concept of indexical drawing, the view that any object can make a mark on another to produce a drawing.  We were asked what our definition of a drawing was. The first thing that sprang to my mind was a pencil and paper. But under deeper scrutiny I broke that definition down: a pencil creates lines on a surface to represent an image. So why couldn’t this be achieved in other mediums? We were shown that wrapping a sheet of paper around an object such as a door handle left a drawing of the handle on the paper in the creases. To me the problem in this concept came between the distinction of a drawing and sculpture. Once the paper was crumpled it gained a 3rd plain and was no longer a 2D drawing but in my mind had become a 3D sculpture. We were asked to take a trip out and create our own drawings. I found a log in the mud and walked around it multiple times to create an outline of its shape. I then removed the log to reveal the drawing I had created. This process made me realise that Indexical drawings record that something has happened and document the activity involved rather than being ‘icons’ resembling the thing they are drawings of. This epiphany taught me mainly not to be so closed minded around the parameters of art and design. The key learning point I took from this study group was that things CAN be otherwise, and usually our preconceptions about something, are in reality, the main thing holding us back. Subversion and surprise can be some of the most influential and exhilarating concepts. This has definitely inspired my work, and I wish to take the concept forward into my final light piece. I wish to create a sculpture that has a surprise element of coloured flame when burned so to really engage my audience.

I know I still have a long way to go on the academic skills side of the course however these past few months have significantly helped me improve both my practical writing skills and confidence in my own abilities. I still find tackling academic texts extremely challenging and so to combat this in future I will be giving myself extra time before seminars to make sure I fully understand texts. As well engaging in more of my own personal reading to improve it over all.

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